Late last year we previewed a new monologue show and I just fell in love with my character. During the preview I got into an expensive suit and strutted around in some power heels feeling like I could take on the world - which was good as the character is one super tough cookie.
Then comes the season proper and a new costume; lucky one of my new year's resolutions is to get out of my comfort zone, because I find myself challenged to the max having to walk out on stage an extremely tight LATEX mini-dress.
Now here is the challenge, how do I play a character that needs to feel like she owns the room in a get up that I feel less than confident in. Those who know me can testify, I am strictly a boots, jeans and jackets kind of a girl. Sometimes described as a feminine tomboy, really I'm just lazy and prefer comfort over glamour.
So first I have to get used to parading around in the type of dress a BDSM Jessica Rabbit would wear - tick off another life experience. Then I have to get used to how restricting the latex is - I can sit down or breathe but not the two at once. And I'm a physical performer. Meaning I like to move around, curl up, stretch out, jump around. This is not going to happen, I
realise as I walk on stage for the first time in the dress.
So, even though I know the character, I can tap into the intention and understand her motives, I feel - just a little – self-conscious!
Not a good place for actor to be. Yep, it's true, this costume has thrown me. So what do I do. Panic, that's the first necessary step. But then I have a mini revelation - I love these actory moments -I realise what I'm seeing as an obstacle can be a real advantage. I just have to accept what is happening to me is also happening to my character. So my slight self-consciousness becomes her challenge to overcome, it gives fuel to her need to prove herself because it makes her feel vulnerable and she hates feeling vulnerable.
So it's been a great lesson in using what is really there not pretending it's something else.
Note to self: don't ignore what's there - be truthful - and use it. It might, just like my sexy dress, be a real gift.
Let’s just hope I remember this for the next time.
As most folks begin to take a look back on the year that was, and a look forward to the year that will be, all the "best of" lists begin to come out.
So, as an actor - someone who should be in action - I've decided that, this year, I shall list the five most interesting, inspiring or challenging experiences of 2013, in the hopes it will shed a little light on my direction for the bright and shiny new year.
So lets start with NUMBER ONE. My first trip overseas and a journey to spend time with my beautiful daughter and get to know her fabulous New York life.
Back in mid-2012 my daughter Caitlin decided to pack her backpack - and, by backpack, I mean several suitcases of expensive clothes - and try life in New York. Being the incredibly brave soul that she is, she left to live in one of the craziest cities in the world without knowing anyone or having any definite plan. She found her feet quickly, studied at Stella Adler, found a wonderful group of talented creative friends that she is now working with and fell in love. But, she's not coming back any time soon.
So I had to go to her.
Okay, this is an interesting one because, even though it was good for me and I got a lot out of it, I can't say I completely enjoyed the experience - at the time, anyway. I did four months of intensive training with a great American acting coach, sadly not in New York but right here in Footscray, and it was a real trial by fire. She was one intense and passionate lady, and big on the tough love style of teaching. As a very rusty and overly sensitive actor returning to serious study, this was quite an emotionally rough process. But if I didn't feel intensely, I would probably be a plumber rather than an actor - I hear they earn really good money! During the four months, I had some serious doubts about my abilities and my commitment and, in my 'dark night of the soul moment' (after a particularly frustrating class where I just wasn't getting it), I even considered giving up altogether... But then there was a change, where I stopped taking myself too seriously and put one of the many pieces of wisdom she was giving us into practice. 'Care less, but be more curious' - this gave me permission to take myself far less seriously and concentrate on the work, which I was really struggling with. I knew I had turned a corner when she did an impression of me in front of the rest of the class - a means to forcefully shake me out of my bad habits - and I laughed! Not only did it stop me from storing another potential hurt - poison for my acting process - but it shocked both of us, and from that moment on, we treated each other with a lot more respect. Even though it was a mega tough, frustrating and sometimes dispiriting four months, I think it helped me to toughen up, not take it so personally and learn to play - again! And for that I am very grateful!
But without the regained confidence of number one and the kick up the arse of number three, I would never have applied to audition for NUMBER FOUR.
And finally to NUMBER FIVE: a wonderful two day break in Sydney with two of my all time favourite people. We stayed in an art deco apartment (that reminded me of Mullholland Drive) right on the beach and watched two extraordinary theatrical events. First came "The Maids," starring the glorious Cate Blanchett and equally glorious Isabelle Huppert. Their sense of play really inspired me to try and continue to keep this in my work. (I can sometimes come down with a dangerous bout of way-too-serious-ness!) But the highlight of the trip was seeing Nederlands Dans Theater; a company I have been in love with for a long time, made more so by a recent cinema screening of their work (thanks to Sharmill Films). Imagine my total dance geek-gasm when we realised we were in the same row, only a few seats away, from the company's Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot and one of the principal dancers! The pieces were exquisite and so moving; we cried, then got autographs. Eeeeee!
Filed under "normal business," there has been lots of plodding along this year, lots of writing and re-writing and writing again. Lots of great theatre and movies, coffees with friends and family, intense discussions, classes and trips to the gym. All the usual stuff that, little by little, transforms me. A couple of big projects fell over and others consolidated while new ideas and plans are forming all the time. But the most exciting thing for me has been a greater sense of who I am, who I can be and what I really want to do. I'll keep you posted as I put this into action over the next 365 days. Happy 2014 all!!
Just over six weeks ago, I was invited to direct a new play. For me this was a big ask, as I have only directed two plays before, both works I had chosen and had several months to work on the concept before rehearsal. But it was a good play and a massive challenge, so I accepted.
And challenge me it has, bringing up the question of how you can get the very best out of your actors, without turning you into a screaming sergeant major barking orders from the sidelines. A megaphone, anyone? One thing I have learned about myself is that I am a perfectionist with a good dose of control freak, a less than admirable quality that I try to control, wryly ironic I know. But I have also been reminded of how much I have learnt, thanks to some truly amazing teachers. First and foremost, the incredible Jean-Pierre Voos, whose genius and skill was ocassionally overshadowed by his rage when his actors didn't get it, or he felt they were being lazy, stupid or unwilling to try something new no matter how out of left field. (Sometimes I hear myself using his exact words; one of my favorites is: "Why don't you try it and then we will both know".) All he demanded from his actors was absolute 24/7 dedication to the work. I worked with him for over nine years and I'm still only realising how incredibly fortunate I was. From Jean-Pierre I learnt how disciplined you must be to honor the work, I learnt stage craft and he instilled in me a love and respect for the text and a real sense for working with the unique rhythms of each piece - cherishing words. But most of all, he instilled in me the importance of communicating to the audience. For me, an actor's job is to make the audience feel. I remember after a particularly "emotional" rehearsal Jean-Pierre letting us know that clearly we were having a "great" time, but the audience were feeling nothing.
From the wonderful Catherine HIll, who I was lucky to work with on three productions, I again learnt a true respect of the text, she insisted everything must come from the words. An actor, aided by the director, is like an archaeologist uncovering the meaning, layer by layer.
And finally Ailsa Piper, who I was lucky enough to take classes with recently (and I am known to call on her skills and compassion when a terrifying audition approaches). From Ailsa, I was reminded of how surprising the truth is, how unexpected, how much work an actor needs to do so they can let it all go when they walk on the stage and, again, a respect for the words, the rhythms of language and the primal effect the very sound we make has on the human psyche when expressing our truth.
So, trying to fill these very big shoes, I walk into rehearsal.
Now, with less than a week to go before we open, this tough, challenging, fascinating, button pushing, wonderful experience has made me clarify my own passion for the theatre.
So here it is:
I believe that, even though creating an authentic and emotionally truthful life on stage is an important part of much of the work (sometimes we need to create a heightened theatrical world, but create it so vividly that, for the time we inhabit it, we and the audience believe it to be the truth), it is only one of the many steps we need to take to creating a piece of theatre that will resonate. It's not the actor's job to feel, making the audience spectators to their emotions. It is the actor's job to get the audience to emotionally, intellectually and, sometimes, when the god of theatre is with you, spiritually engage with the story.
Jean-Pierre was right, an actor's job is not to feel but to get the audience to feel. But an actor doesn't have to do it alone, they have the text. The springboard to action, and plays are all about action. Exploring the words, uncovering their meanings and grounding that meaning in intentions that makes not just the meaning, but the feeling clear to the audience. And an actor needs to do it with with an impressive amount of skill. They need to be masters at communicating the smallest nuance to the audience, to let them in. This takes a dedication to physical and vocal work a dedication to practice and a self awareness to rid yourself of bad habits. We all have habits that creep into the work, part of an actor's job is be able to watch themselves, watch the way they walk stand, breathe, remember how it feels to be in every kind of situation, to become a keen and critical observer of themselves. Every flick of an eye, glance to the ground, fidget or shuffle must be there only to reveal something about the story to the audience, or it is a distraction and the audience will disconnect, making it twice as hard to win them back. This is not a permanent state that it is possible to achieve and remain in, but something for an actor to aspire to and to rejoice in those ever so brief moments when it all comes together. It's also a massive challenge, and as I inferred at the beginning of this ramble, I can't resist a challenge.
So what has directing brought me? A realisation of my own bad habits and current shortcomings as an actor, and a burning desire to free myself from them so I can amplify the connection I make with the audience. So, thank you to all the wonderful, dedicated performers I am working with for giving me my next irresistible challenge.